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Miranda v. Milwaukee County Jail Facility

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

June 4, 2019




         Plaintiff Carlos Miranda, who is representing himself, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendant Milwaukee County Jail violated his constitutional rights. He also filed a motion to proceed without prepaying the filing fee. The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) applies to this case because Miranda was incarcerated when he filed his complaint. The PLRA requires courts to screen complaints filed by prisoners to confirm that the complaint is not legally “frivolous or malicious” and that it states a claim upon which relief can be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). This case was originally assigned to Magistrate Judge William Duffin; however, because not all parties have had the opportunity to consent to magistrate judge jurisdiction, the case was reassigned to Chief Judge William Griesbach for entry of this order.

         Motion to Proceed without Prepaying the Filing Fee

          Miranda has requested leave to proceed without prepayment of the full filing fee (in forma pauperis). A prisoner plaintiff proceeding in forma pauperis is required to pay the full amount of the $350.00 filing fee over time. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). Miranda filed a certified copy of his prison trust account statement for the six-month period immediately preceding the filing of his complaint, as required under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2), and he paid an initial partial filing fee of $27.23. Accordingly, Miranda's motion for leave to proceed without prepaying the filing fee will be granted.

         Screening of the Complaint

          Under the PLRA, a court must dismiss a complaint if a plaintiff raises claims that are legally “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). To state a claim, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, “that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows a court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         To proceed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: 1) he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and 2) the defendant was acting under color of state law. Buchanan-Moore v. County of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Kramer v. Village of North Fond du Lac, 384 F.3d 856, 861 (7th Cir. 2004)); see also Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). The court gives a pro se plaintiff's allegations, “however inartfully pleaded, ” a liberal construction. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

         Allegations in the Complaint

          Miranda alleges that, on January 6, 2019, while housed at the Milwaukee County Jail, he sought to mail a letter, a ring that he had made, and two pieces of candy to his wife in sealed envelope. According to Miranda, before the envelope was mailed, someone opened the envelope and removed its contents. Miranda asserts that the letter and the candy were put back into the envelope, but the ring was not.

         Miranda states that, about two weeks later, on January 19, 2019, his wife told him that she had received the letter and the candy, but not the ring. Miranda asserts that he filed a grievance, which was signed by Officer Perez-Gerena. A couple of months later, on March 21, 2019, Miranda received the following response: “Lt. Montana stated that there was no property taken from any mail.” ECF No. 1 at 3.

         The Court's Analysis

          The court will not allow Miranda to proceed with this case. First, Miranda cannot sue the Milwaukee County Jail under § 1983, which allows a plaintiff to sue a “person” who, acting under color of law, violates his constitutional rights. State law determines whether an entity has the capacity to be sued. Webb v. Franklin County Jail, No. 16-cv-1284, 2017 WL 914736 at *2 (S.D. Ill. Mar. 8, 2017). In Wisconsin, the jail is an arm of the sheriff's department, which is an arm of the county. See Abraham v. Piechowski, 13 F.Supp.2d 870, 877-79 (E.D. Wis. 1998). This means that the jail is not a “legal entity separable from the county government which it serves . . . .” Whiting v. Marathon C'nty Sheriff's Department, 382 F.3d 700, 704 (7th Cir. 2004). Because the Milwaukee County Jail does not have the legal capacity to be sued, Miranda cannot pursue claims against it.

         In a § 1983 case, a plaintiff may sue only those individuals who were personally involved in the alleged constitutional deprivation. Colbert v. City of Chicago, 851 F.3d 649, 657 (7th Cir. 2017). The court will not allow Miranda to amend his complaint to name the allegedly responsible individuals because, even if he had named the proper defendants, he would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

         To the extent Miranda complains that jail staff opened his sealed outgoing mail, the Seventh Circuit has repeatedly held “that searches of prisoners' outgoing mail is permissible for security purposes, such as searching for contraband, escape plans, and the like.” Beese v. Liebe, 51 Fed.Appx. 979, 982 (7th Cir. 2002) (citing Gaines v. Lane, 790 ...

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